The calcium ionophore A23187 has been shown to induce the expression of a set of glucose-regulated protein (GRP) genes through the depletion of Ca2+ from the intracellular Ca2+ stores. Here we demonstrate that thapsigargin, which inhibits specifically the endoplasmic reticulum Ca(2+)-ATPase and causes a discharge of the intracellular Ca2+ store, is able to induce the transcription of two grp genes (grp78/BiP and grp94) with kinetics and magnitude similar to that of A23187. The induction of the grp genes by both reagents requires several hours of sustained treatment, in contrast to the rapid induction previously described for c-jun and c-fos. The transactivation of the rat grp78 promoter by A23187 is mediated through sequences spanning -154 to -130 and -99 to -90. Further, simultaneous mutation of two 10-base pair regions, spanning -139 to -130 and -99 to -90, severely reduced the A23187 response. The induction by thapsigargin is also partially mediated through these same promoter elements, without the involvement of the TRE and CRE-like elements of the grp78 promoter. The Ca2+ response elements are further defined by their ability to confer Ca2+ stress inducibility to a heterologous promoter. We show that subdomains of the grp78 promoter are capable of conferring the Ca2+ stress response. In particular, two copies of a 50-base pair region spanning -159 to -110, when cloned in either orientation, can confer a 5- and 9-fold induction by A23187 and thapsigargin, respectively. Our results lend support to the hypothesis that the induction of grp78 by A23187 and thapsigargin following ER Ca2+ discharge acts through a novel pathway in which a Ca2+ signal is transduced through redundant elements containing CCAAT box-like motifs flanked by GC-rich regions.